I remember reading a Rolling Stone piece in the late 80s about college radio in which many of the kids interviewed wanted to be artist managers or label executives, and they looked down their noses at the kids who simply wanted to learn and do radio. That wasn’t the way we rolled at my old school, however. There, in the late 70s, if anybody wanted to be an artist manager or a label executive, they never said so. We wanted to be DJs, newscasters, and play-by-play guys. Almost all of us loved music, but on the radio, we wanted to play the same stuff we liked to listen to—and we had no interest in being first on new acts. New albums by the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, and the like were what got us excited.
It occurs to me now, of course, that this prejudice in favor of the familiar caused us to miss a lot of worthwhile new music. Take Willie Nile, whose first two albums, Willie Nile and Golden Down, were released in 1980 and 1981. I can remember playing a track or two from Golden Down, but they didn’t leave much of an impression on me, or on anybody else I knew. It’s weird to think of that now, because we worshipped at the Springsteen altar in those days, and Golden Down is full of Springsteen-style bombast. But we dismissed Nile as just another New York new-waver without listening very closely at all.
It wasn’t because of our disinterest, but Nile spent a decade in the wilderness after that. Despite an opening slot on the Who’s 1982 tour, he didn’t record again after Golden Down until 1991, and it would be 13 more years beyond that before he made another studio album.
Since 2004, Nile has been more prolific, by his standards, with a several live albums, a new studio album in 2010, and this week, the new American Ride. A copy came in the mail from Conqueroo a few weeks ago, so I put it in the CD bag for the car, and I have been wishing ever since that we’d paid more attention to Willie Nile back in the day. American Ride is, like so many other newer albums I’ve found myself enjoying lately, the kind of thing you can’t make when you’re in your 20s. It takes some mileage and some learning, good times and bad ones (Nile covers Jim Carroll’s legendary “People Who Died”), before you approach anything like wisdom. Exhibit A: the title track of the album takes a concept that’s been done to death—hitting the road to Find America and at the same time Finding Yourself—and makes it sound like nobody ever thought of it before. You can hear that track and read a full review over at Something Else Reviews.
It’s an indication of how far Nile had slipped off the music industry’s radar that American Ride had to be crowd-funded. But if there’s another Willie Nile album, that probably won’t be necessary.
On Other Matters: I link to a lot of music-related stuff on Twitter, but if you don’t use Twitter, you’ll probably miss it. So here are a few of the recent links:
- Classic albums on beautiful turntables (this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen)
- The 20 Best Album Cover Homages and Parodies
- “Prog-Rock: In Praise of a Much-Reviled Musical Genre”
- In the 70s, rockers took endorsement dollars where they could get them
- Review of the newly released edition of the Paul McCartney and Wings concert film Rockshow
- The famous 1975 incident when Charlie Rich set fire to the envelope announcing John Denver as the country entertainer of the year
So go read ’em already. (And then get on Twitter, if you’re not. I guarantee you’ll find it useful—and more fun than Facebook—or I’ll give you your money back.)